How to write an employee performance review

TL;DR: An employee performance review is a formal assessment of an employee’s performance within a certain period. However, traditional employee reviews are no longer most companies’ choice. Those were usually written once a year by only the manager and were heavily tied to raises and dismissals, which made reviews biased and counter-productive.

But employee reviews are still necessary for a company’s growth and talent retention; modern employee reviews are designed to help your report’s career development and your company’s growth. And it’s crucial to understand what to focus on and what to write when reviewing someone else.

What’s an employee performance review? How do you write a good performance review?

Employee performance reviews have a bad rep among managers, employees, and even people ops/HR leaders. According to SHRM, 45% of HR leaders don’t think annual performance reviews accurately assess an employee’s work. Another survey reveals that only 5% of managers are satisfied with reviews.

Indeed, there are many grim tales of employee reviews. Most complaints boil down to the way many managers write reviews with no empathy nor consideration about their report’s job description. In an HBR survey, 92% of respondents said that, if delivered appropriately, negative feedback can be “effective at improving performance.” Employees aren’t opposed to being reviewed. But it’s about how you, as a manager, write it.

Teju Adeyinka, Head of Growth at BuyCoins, shared their thoughts with us:

“I like getting reviews because it helps me develop my skill set and advance in my career. They’re written by my direct manager, my indirect manager, and my peers. Then my manager and I develop a growth plan to help me in my weak spots and it’s done twice a year. It makes me feel seen.”

Writing effective employee reviews requires empathy and the aim to genuinely help employees grow and develop in their careers. It shouldn’t be about punishing poor performers and rewarding good ones. Well-written reviews help with employee retention and engagement, and good performance reviews should involve:

  • Reviewing employees based on their job description;
  • Inviting peers and other managers to take part in the performance review process. Some companies also have external partners and customers write reviews;
  • Discussing the aim of the review with employees;
  • Disclosing if it affects salary raises and layoffs; and (quite importantly)
  • Writing performance reviews more than once a year, along with continuous feedback.

Read on to learn the practical steps for writing effective employee reviews (as a respondent).

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

This playbook is aimed at helping managers write productive employee reviews that are transparent, fair, and growth-focused. People ops/HR professionals can also use this playbook to guide their people (especially first-time managers) on how to deliver great feedback via performance reviews.

And other review respondents (non-managers) can benefit from this playbook as well!

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A system of mutual growth and development

Without a culture that supports growth and development, employees may not see how feedback can help them improve. But a company that supports employee growth will take time to understand what their people’s career goals are, then provide development and training resources to help them achieve those goals.

A transparent and fair environment 

A transparent environment helps employees trust that performance reviews will be used for their development, and not for punishment. This will encourage reviewees to engage in the process.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Be empathetic when writing reviews. Use a friendly tone instead of an authoritative one. We’re all humans and make mistakes.
  • Communicate clearly.
  • Give continuous, constructive feedback during your 1:1s.
  • If your company chooses to tie compensation to reviews, tell the report. Be transparent about what the reviews will and will not be used for.
  • Do a bias reduction exercise before writing a review to prime your cognitive system and stay alert to bias.
  • Sending surveys for employees to evaluate the company as well is a great way to develop a transparent culture and engage your people.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Review your report’s current job description

It’s important to refresh your memory regarding expectations, what has been communicated to your report, and evaluate if adjustments need to be made. Reviewing their current job description also helps remove unfair expectations that can put pressure on the employee and affect their performance.

2. Review past data

Check past data like previous feedback and notes from 1:1 meetings to highlight where your report has improved, where they’re still lacking and need more help, and where they’re declining at. This is not to punish them, but to follow their progress and provide support.

If this isn’t an employee’s first performance appraisal at your company, have a look at past reviews to gauge their overall performance, growth, and areas for improvement. Using a people management tool like Leapsome would make this step easier. Also, documenting feedback is a great way to measure employee growth and performance for future reviews.

3. Reflect upon the aim of employee reviews

Why are you writing this review? To decide who to reward or promote? To understand the development and growth of an employee? To see how each employee contributes to the overall objective of your company?

Whichever your goal is, a well-written employee review has the potential to:

  • Help employees grow and develop their skills (which will also improve their performance at work);
  • Give employees a chance to learn new skills that can benefit their career growth and the company’s needs;
  • Encourage managers to get to know their reports better. Understanding their strengths and areas for development will also help guide managers on the type of tasks they assign to their reports and why;
  • Help employees understand the company’s expectations, rules, and standards;
  • Improve the work relationship and encourage honest and clear communication between employees. Knowing their growth matters the most discourages unhealthy competition;
  • Make it easier for employees to ask for help, voice their opinions, and be confident about the value they bring to the company.

You should not use employee reviews to:

  • Punish employees. Identifying areas to be worked on doesn’t equal failure. Here’s more on how reviews can be used for development and not judgment;
  • Rank employees among each other, creating unhealthy competition and resentment between teammates.

4. Discuss your aim with the person being reviewed

To promote a culture of transparency and fairness, remind the reviewee of the appraisal’s aim. Also, clarify the process: Who would write the reviews? Which areas will they be evaluated in? How will they be evaluated? What type of questions will be asked? Is the review tied to compensation indirectly or directly?

5. Write objectively

How can you phrase the performance review to convey your feedback clearly and accurately?

  • Recount areas of improvement first. Show the reviewee that their contributions are seen and appreciated. 
  • Give specific examples of when they did well at something and when they didn’t — and don’t forget to provide context. Saying “I feel that sometimes you invest too much time scheduling meetings on less important topics” isn’t clear enough. Specify instances in which this happened, to make it clear that your feedback isn’t a personal attack.
  • Have clarity on the fact that reviews require that someone judges someone else. And judgments are vulnerable to biases because humans are innately biased. A biased review is an incorrect assessment of someone’s performance and helps no one.
  • Be mindful that no matter how accurate your comments are and how much context you provide, your assessment of another person’s work still reflects your opinion. So be honest about this and use sentences like “I feel that…” and “I think that…”.
  • Whenever sharing constructive feedback, tie it to actionable tips. Constructive feedback is a way to foster trust, ownership, and collaboration between employees. Destructive feedback looks like: “You should fix your data analysis.” Constructive feedback looks like this: “Have you tried to visualize the data to see if there are gaps in your analysis? You can use Google Charts for that. And a pie chart may be better to visualize than a line chart.”

Read our playbook on how to give constructive feedback to learn even more.

6. Send out the reviews

You can hand out their reviews via a document or printed version, but the most effective and time-saving method (which will also help you analyze results) is to use a performance management tool.

Follow-up best practices for employee appraisals

Have a development talk with your report

Schedule a time to go through the review. Communicate clearly, be empathetic, and let your report know that you’re available to answer questions they may have (during and after the development talk). If you feel that’s needed, remind them that their work is not a reflection of their worth and that it can be improved.

This time should also be used to create a learning plan alongside the employee to help them grow even more. It’s a good idea to prepare for this talk by researching courses and other learning resources to recommend to your report.

Document employee reviews 

Document reviews in a centralized place (like a people management tool). This way, writing future reviews, tracking progress, and creating a development plan for your report will be much easier.

Share continuous feedback with your report

Don’t just share feedback during reviews. Feedback should be ongoing and never catch the employee by surprise. Continuous feedback makes you more than a manager: You should be a coach to your reports.

🚀 Interested in implementing reviews to boost employee performance and engagement? Check out our playbook on how to run a 360° review. 😉

Deliver impactful, growth-oriented performance reviews with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning.

In this playbook, you learned about the importance of employee performance reviews and how to conduct them effectively. Watch this video to learn more about filling out performance reviews in Leapsome.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are employee performance reviews confidential?

Employees should have a right to the confidentiality of their employee reviews. Results should be kept between the manager and the report; however, managers may want to discuss it with people ops/HR or their own manager if they have concerns. This may be necessary, but should be done respectfully.

What questions should I ask in an employee review?

What are the main mistakes with employee performance reviews?

  • Rating quantity over quality because quantity is easier to measure (this is called expediency bias);
  • Not having a firm objective in place before reviewing employees;
  • Not giving actionable feedback;
  • Focusing only on weaknesses;
  • Overwhelming the reviewee with too much information.

How often should employees get a performance review?

Besides running biannual 360° performance reviews for all employees, we recommend that you support new hires with structured feedback during their probation period (e.g., at 2 and 5 months for a 6-month probation period).

Should employee reviews be anonymous?

Performance appraisal feedback can be anonymous, but allowing for non-anonymous feedback gives people the chance to follow up.

Who should write an employee review?

Having only one respondent can lead to poor judgment. For a more accurate measure of employee performance, we recommend a holistic approach where peers, managers, and customers/partners review the same person. Some companies don’t include external contributors.

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